The first match of 2017 MSI semifinals has concluded in a one-sided fashion as SKT T1 dominated Flash Wolves 3-0. Perhaps it wasn’t the most entertaining match because SKT T1 clearly outperformed Flash Wolves except for Game 1. However, if examined from a different perspective, there is subtle but surely fun factor in this seemingly one-dimensional match - draft.

Let's take a closer look at all three drafts from the first semifinals match of 2017 MSI semifinals.

▣ Game 1: Putting all eggs in one basket

You don’t have to be an LoL expert to know that SKT T1’s draft in Game 1 revolved around Bang. That said, the rest of the champions – Shen, Ivern, Orianna, and Lulu – are all viable in their own right, but they all came together to babysit Bang’s Caitlyn. Flash Wolves also understood SKT T1’s intentions and responded with a balanced comp that can quickly focus down a champion.

Draft started out as SKT T1 first picked Lulu, forcing Flash Wolves to take Karma because giving away Lulu-Karma double shield comp was too risky. Then SKT T1 picked up Ivern and Caitlyn. It was probably at this moment when Flash Wolves fully realized SKT T1’s intentions.

Unfortunately, Zyra with her laning prowess and teamfighting presence as well as Syndra with hard CC and kill potential were already banned. To make the matters worse, so was Karsa’s signature Lee Sin. So, Flash Wolves looked to gain an upper hand by taking Graves who is formidable in contesting jungle along with Ashe who can snipe essential targets. Since Betty was known for his skillshot accuracy, Ashe turned out to be quite an excellent choice.

▲ Ashe highlights Bang's critical mistake

Not wanting to stop there, SKT T1 added Shen and Orianna to round out a quad-shield comp. Flash Wolves’ comp wasn’t a slouch either. Nautilus complements CC-less Graves’ raw damage output well, and LeBlanc is an all-purpose AP nuker with mobility as well as lethality.

From the Flash Wolves’ point though, they must have felt that they weren’t playing on a level playing field no matter how prepared their draft was. Lulu and Ivern’s double shield alone will do an incredible job of protecting an allied ADC. This time, Flash Wolves had to break through four layers of shield to put a scratch on Caitlyn. Ultimately, Flash Wolves ended up playing catch-up to SKT T1’s strategy instead of dictating their own.

Up until the mid game, it looked unfavorable for SKT T1. For starters, Karsa’s Graves showed plays that lived up to his fame. Alongside SKT T1 Peanut, Karsa is arguably the best jungler so far in this MSI. Flash Wolves repeatedly picked off Bang thanks to aggressive jungling and Betty’s skillshot, making it seem like they had the game in their pocket.

Yet, it wasn’t enough. SKT T1’s fundamentals were too solid for these minor advantages to topple. Early to mid game might look like Flash Wolves was crushing SKT T1, when in reality, SKT T1 was relentlessly hunting down Flash Wolves. At around a mid 20-mintue mark, Flash Wolves lost a decisive teamfight, and SKT T1’s Caitlyn capitalized on the opportunity. It was a done deal after that. Who could stand up to Caitlyn with generous helpings of shield? It was only a matter of positioning from that point.

▲ This pivotal teamfight sealed the deal for SKT T1.

▣ Game 2: How to win first then go to war

Draft in Game 2 was also the most entertaining aspect of the match. After SKT T1 banned out all shield characters, Flash Wolves picked up well-rounded Graves, thinking SKT T1 will use a different strategy this time. Then SKT drafted Fizz out of the blue while banning viable top champions like Galio and Rumble.

Flash Wolves chose LeBlanc as prepared. It’s highly probable that Maple specifically prepped LeBlanc for the match considering his use of Teleport in Game 1 and 2. Flash Wolves thrives on multiple skirmishes, and LeBlanc with Teleport can not only bait out small battles, but also can continue to capitalize on them.

Additionally, Flash Wolves looked closely at the power level difference in the bot lane. In SKT T1’s recent games, it was not Faker but Peanut who took the early initiatives while Bang closed out games. That’s why Flash Wolves had to stifle SKT T1’s bot lane duo as their priority, and LeBlanc could secure kills in tower dive situations involving more than three players.

It should be noted that LeBlanc neither dominates nor lags behind Fizz in the early laning phase. Although she has a bit unfavorable matchup against the aquatic trickster in the late game, Flash Wolves probably thought it was manageable. Suddenly, SKT switched Fizz to top and picked up Cassiopeia, the queen of level 1. Hitting Flash Wolves over the head would have been more polite.

▲ Why Cassiopeia is such a threat.

Flash Wolves took the bait laid out by SKT T1 and lost the mind game. With competitive top champions like Galio and Rumble banned, Shen trudged through an uphill battle against Fizz. Things were worse for LeBlanc in the mid, who got bullied out of her mind. At one point, she had to recall back to base without getting a single CS in one of the most brutal trades.

Since Flash Wolves lost the mid laner who were supposed to ground the team in the early to mid game, it was SKT T1’s game for the taking. Faker completely shut out LeBlanc’s advance in lane and pulled the wave close to the friendly turret. Bot lane wasn’t doing any better either. Peanut struggled quite a bit against Karsa’s Graves in Game 1, but his Olaf was a different story. From top and mid to bot and jungle, Flash Wolves turned up nothing and subsequently had to give up the game. This game’s tipping point wasn’t present within the actual play. SKT T1 won the battle before it began and simply went into the game to manifest it into reality.

▲ MMD also struggled against Fizz.

▣ Game 3: Forcing Karsa on Ivern

Memories from Game 1 and 2 were still fresh when Game 3 draft started. As SKT confidently banned the same champions as Game 1 and first picked Lulu, it probably gave Flash Wolves chills. To prevent falling for the same trick twice, Flash Wolves spent two bans for Cassiopeia and Caitlyn without realizing Caitlyn isn’t the only viable ADCs around. In fact, any decent ADC with four shields can pose a significant threat.

The real problem for Flash Wolves was jungle, or more specifically, Ivern. If left uncontested, SKT might have taken him. With no more bans left, Flash Wolves had no choice but to take the green father away from the opponent. SKT T1 just went with a well-rounded and aggressive jungler, Graves, followed by Twitch for Bang. Instead of sticking with their comfort pick, LeBlanc, Flash Wolves made an impromptu decision of choosing mid Lucian.

In Group Stage, Faker did succumb to WE mid laner Xiye’s Lucian. The logic behind Flash Wolves’ choice of Lucian was sound because it can play with Faker’s trauma to exert more psychological pressure. Combined with two shield champions Flash Wolves was forced to pick up, Lucian had enough to go on. After all, there was little reason to not pick him.

▲ Lucian's early power play didn't last long.

Things were standard in terms of draft. Each team divvied up Rumble and Galio, both strong top champions. SKT T1 took Orianna as expected, whereas Flash Wolves picked up Ezreal for his utility and mobility to nicely complement Lucian’s AD damage. Notice that ADCs without mobility skills will be a sitting duck against Orianna and Rumble in teamfights. That’s why Ezrael fit the bill in this regard. There is nothing extraordinary about the draft so far because both teams stuck with ordinary comps.

Upon closer examination, though, there is something odd about SKT T1 whose aggressive comp will always have favorable matchups regardless of teamfights or 1v1. In other words, they’re aggressive champions that don’t have to have defensive builds. A downside of such comp is that the advantage is often temporary and crumbles in the long run without an early snowball .

Luckily for SKT T1, they had no worries because Karsa, who previously led the team with an aggressive playstyle, chose to play a passive jungler, Ivern.

Karsa’s Ivern proficiency wasn’t as high as it needed to be. Ivern’s basic attack becomes ranged inside a brush, and he dashes to a target inflicted with Rootcaller (Q ability). Evidenced by the clip below, it looked as though he miscalculated this point. He failed to recognize Ivern’s basic attack switching mechanism for his gank attempt and paid the price with his life.

▲ Literally died in vain.

From that point on, Karsa’s Ivern failed to show game-changing plays. Ivern excels at disrupting enemy jungle and assisting allies with shield rather than aggressively seeking out enemy laners. Karsa, on the other hand, has been seen in this tournament as an aggressive initiator, not a passive buffer against the opponent’s attacks. Subsequently, he was unable to reconcile this discrepancy and allowed SKT T1 to run rampant while Flash Wolves’ key player watched from a sideline.

This begs the question: what about Maple’s Lucian? Mid Lucian is known as solid pick due to his balanced damage mechanism between sustained and burst output, but there are a couple points Flash Wolves missed that broke the game. First point is that Lucian’s power level drastically varies depending on the pilot, and the second point is that the jungler may be rendered ineffective. The final, and perhaps the most important, reason for not containing Orianna this time is that Flash Wolves might not have respected Faker’s ability to learn from past encounters.

▣ Draft is where it all begins

Though many people may have overlooked the 5-10 minutes of draft phase, there are more subtle and crucial nuances than they realize. So much so that it may decide a game to an experienced eye. My colleagues and I were privy to such information due to the geological advantage of being close to LCK teams’ scrims and were able to get a glimpse into their thought process.

They never just come into a match with a single draft in mind. Instead, they deliberate on the optimal comp and appropriate playstyles to back it up according to each situation and opponent. Maybe SKT T1’s long reign can’t only be attributed to individual talents or snap judgments. It’s more plausible that their commitment to the craft and experiments for strategies that continue to propel them to the pinnacle of League esports.

▲ Today's outcome isn't merely a mishmash of mechanical skills.



 ■ Another MSI 2017 Knockout Stage Articles

- [Review] SKT vs FW Match Analysis #4: The Art of Draft
- [Fun] Koreans' reactions to SKT vs FW: "FW play Dark Souls: Prepare to SKT Edition"
- [Interview] SKT Bang: "I don't think I played that cleanly today."
- [Interview] SKT Huni on Top Lucian: "Yeah, I wanna play it."
- [Interview] SKT Faker: "Our current roster may not be the best, but we're at the strongest as a team."


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